The UK’s biggest business lender is receiving nearly 10 times as many calls as usual from ailing firms vying to take out emergency loans amid a ruinous pandemic.

NatWest chief executive Alison Rose said that although some of the money was beginning to get through, lenders were facing operational challenges in delivering the unprecedented financial assistance programmes.

“Our call centres normally take 3,000 calls a day; we are now receiving 25,000 which is why I’m redeploying staff, retraining staff and getting people to help,” she said.

“The money is starting to move but I appreciate it is a very desperate situation for a lot of businesses.”

An expanded and improved scheme

With the coronavirus lockdown continuing to hurt businesses, many firms are counting on the Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme (CBILS) as a lifeline.

It provides financial support to smaller businesses (SMEs) across the UK that are losing revenue, and seeing their cashflow disrupted, as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak.

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By GlobalData

The scheme is a part of a wider package of government support for UK businesses and employees.

CBILS has been significantly expanded along with changes to the scheme’s features and eligibility criteria, designed to make it easier and quicker for business to borrow.

The changes mean even more smaller businesses across the UK impacted by the coronavirus crisis can access the funding they need.

“Not about to start writing blank cheques”

However, critics contend that the scheme—an unprecedented package of £330bn in 80%-government-backed loans—has yet to reach the intended businesses. So far, less than 1% of the amount offered has been delivered.

“I recognise the challenge you are putting down, which is why we restructured our business, we refocused our people; we are putting funds out as quickly as we physically can to these businesses to help them during this period,” Rose said.

The NatWest CEO warned, however, that banks were “not about to start writing blank cheques.